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Carroll understands the challenge ahead

While you’ll get me thoughts on Charlie Weis’ press conference a little bit later, I thought it’d be worth taking a look at Pete Carroll’s press conference from yesterday and hear what he had to say about the Fighting Irish.

Living in the heart of Trojan country, I have a chance to hear from Carroll on a regular basis, and he truly is a guy that only knows one way. Whether he’s talking about football, stopping gang violence in Los Angeles, the weather, or rush-hour traffic, Carroll is all about positivity and taking on challenges. And after hearing his comments about the Irish, it’s clear that Carroll knows he’s in for a challenge this weekend.

It’s no secret that both Weis and Carroll know that everything they say in these sessions will be analyzed and scrutinized and studied for hints by the opposition. I’m sure much of what is said is said for a reason (like mentioning that a certain wide receiver was practicing in full pads yesterday for the Irish).

Here are some statements Carroll made during his presser yesterday. Allow me to read between the lines and speculate for a bit.

On Notre Dame’s passing attack:

You can’t be much better than they are. The efficiency he’s throwing at right now, Clausen’s on it. He’s finding receivers. They’re protecting him well. He’s keeping the negative plays down. Only two picks in all the plays he’s made so far. These guys are loaded.

I haven’t seen the rest of the schedule, but up until now, this is the best passing team by far that we’ve seen. They pose the biggest challenge, and they’ve got big play guys either coming out of the back field or the tight end spot. Of course, Golden Tate is just having a ridiculous start to the season. So this is a very, very good attack, and they’re challenging the heck out of us.

Slowing the Irish down in the air is going to be a critical area for the Trojans and Carroll doesn’t mince words on the challenges it presents his defensive unit. Much has been said about the revamped and reloaded Southern Cal defense, yet a closer look at the numbers doesn’t necessarily support the thesis that this USC defense is as stout as the ones before it. While the glamor stat of zero touchdown passes allowed certainly strikes fear into the hearts of opponents, a closer look shows that opposing offenses have thrown for just about the same amount of yards against the Trojans as they’re averaging against their other opponents. With nickel back Brian Baucham questionable as he returns from a motorcycle accident, Shareece Wright academically ineligible, and Marshall Jones out for the season with a cracked vertebra, there are opportunities for the Irish to attack.

On the Notre Dame running attack:

Armando Allen is a good football player. When they put Golden Tate back there, they run like crazy. They have a good running back, an experienced offensive line. They have all the schemes. If anything, they’re riding the strength of what Jimmy Clausen brings to them. They’re such a high-efficiency throwing game, why not? They’re putting up big time yards and all that, so.

But the running game is definitely there. One that has enough variations to it, it taxes you scheme-wise. They do enough that they’re not just a zone team. They do a lot of things. So, they’re fairly, deeply committed to the whole wildcat system and all of that. With Allen and with Tate back there, they’ve got a lot of different things that they can do. They give you a very difficult spectrum of things to prepare for.

It’s clear that Carroll has noticed the difference running game coordinator Frank Verducci has done with the offensive line, as well as the commitment to the Wildcat offense. It’s no longer just a gimmick, but something that opposing coaches need to game-plan for. That said, former Trojan defensive coordinator Nick Holt had success against the Wildcat with Washington’s defense this year, so it’ll be interesting to see if Carroll finds a similar solution. Interestingly, Carroll gets sidetracked again on the Notre Dame passing attack, which makes me wonder if he hopes the Irish make themselves one-dimensional, so they can just go out and cover the pass, or if he’s hoping the Irish throw the ball around the field, and USC will try to impose their will through a time-consuming ground game.

On preparing for Golden Tate:

It’s really a challenge. Really a challenge because they move them in all their receiver spots, and then he winds up behind the center getting the football. He is like a running back at receiver. He’s a bigger, stronger, more physical guy when the ball’s in his hands. So they have realized that. They’ve used him all over.
So we just have to keep track of him and know the tendencies when he moves. There are so many things you can do it’s very difficult. They’ve done a really good job of utilizing their special guys, and he’s the beneficiary of that.

Carroll saw first hand what UW’s passive coverage on Tate did to destroy the Husky defense. Expect him to have everyone on the defense well-versed in Tate’s tendencies, and be ready for every possible outcome when Tate’s playing the X, roaming the slot, lined up in the Wildcat, or motioning from the fullback position.

On Notre Dame’s attacking defense:

They’re the most aggressive they’ve been. Last year they started really coming after people, and this year they’ve picked up on that. They’re pressuring well over half of the time which is a tremendous percentage of pressure from the defense. In certain games they’ll get it up higher than that.

So what that causes is they’re taking chances to come after you. It’s very aggressive, and they cause bad plays. You can protect really well, then there are some are opportunities, because the coverage is more limited.

It’s just whether or not we’re able to handle the heat that they bring. If we can, we can have a chance at moving the football. If they can’t, they can control the game and cause some bad things and create some negative plays and give you issues that you don’t want. They’re doing a nice job now. It’s difficult.

There’s risk and reward here. That’s part of it. When you’re committing people to the line of scrimmage, there is more space in the secondary. That’s why protection is so important and the rhythm of the quarterback is so important to get the ball out so you don’t get hit and disrupted.

The whole point of pressuring is to disrupt the offense. If you can minimize that there are opportunities to make plays, and we have to create some space and see if we can do that


Carroll has to believe he can take some shots down the field. Expect to see Damian Williams involved in this game plan early and often, as well as the play-action passing game utilized early, especially if the Irish have early problems stopping USC’s ground game. Carroll also realizes how essential it’ll be to protect his quarterback, so I’d think max protection, two-man routes with the potential for big plays is a sound strategy against a defense that has proven susceptible to big plays.

On Notre Dame’s run/pass tendencies:

They’re a team that’s interesting. They’re willing to throw the ball a bunch if they think that’s what’s necessary in the game plan. Sometimes they’ll go the other way. They’re not a set style that you can tell what they’re going to do in a game plan.

The Michigan State game they came out and played empty the whole first quarter, you know, ran the ball like twice or something. Were moving the ball up-and-down the field. They adjusted from there and did some other things.

This is a team that you have to see what they think of you. It’s going to take a while. We have to be flexible early in the game and adapt. See if we can get situated once they declare how they want to play it from that side of the ball.

That’s how they’ve always been. It is kind of a wait and see what they think they need to do to win every time we play them.

This is one of the more interesting evaluations of Charlie Weis’ offense I’ve ever read. Carroll admits that scheming and game-planning for Weis’ attack is useless. Instead of guessing, he lets Weis dictate what he’ll do and counter-attacks. This has to be one of the more underrated aspects of Pete Carroll the coach. His ability to think on his feet, make in-game adjustments, and adapt his defense to match what the opposing coach is trying to do. When you think about USC defense, you rarely think of a team that let’s the opponent dictate terms. Yet here’s Carroll admitting that he does as much when facing a Charlie Weis run offense, even using Weis’ perception of Carroll’s own defense to guide his decision making. This is a fascinating revelation.

It’s apparent that while there is a rivalry between Carroll and Weis, it’s one based in admiration. While neither may like each other especially much, it’s clear that both need the other to succeed at their job. Weis needs to beat Carroll, and Carroll greatly enjoys the satisfaction that comes with out-smarting Charlie Weis at his own game.

Expect a chess match on Saturday.